Technology complicates White House communications

When Dee Dee Myers became President Clinton's press secretary in 1993, there were 50 websites worldwide. By the time Dana Perino left her job as press secretary for President Bush in 2009, there were over 20 billion websites worldwide, said Frank Sesno, director of George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs. Sesno moderated a panel discussion with four former press secretaries sponsored by the university Monday evening.

The panel took place as President Obama's current press secretary, Robert Gibbs, wraps up his term. His last day is Friday when Jay Carney will take over the office.

Thanks to the Internet, people all over the country now have a say in what's happening, said Perino. The Wyoming native noted that while her grandfather can't get the New York Times delivered to his ranch, he can stay informed.

Yet, all this connectivity presents a challenge for the White House. For example, when a plane crashed in Long Island, N.Y., two months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Ari Fleischer, President Bush's press secretary from 2001 to 2003 took nearly five hours to brief the press, making sure to get all the facts correct.

"I made enemies in the press [that day]," he said, noting that the continuous news cycle amplified speculation over the cause of the crash at a time when terrorism was foremost in many peoples' minds -- without any word from the White House.

Perino admitted that she resisted social media at first, but now she has nearly 30,000 followers on her Twitter page. By comparison, Gibbs on his official page has just under 147,000 followers.

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